I’ve been feeling a little distracted this holiday season. Maybe a little stressed. Maybe a little numb. I’m not feeling it like I want to feel it – not the tingle I sometimes get when I hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sing ‘Oh Holy Night’ or the warm and fuzzy feeling of snuggling under ten blankets to watch old Christmas specials. Am I feeling grinchy? Not exactly, but I’m not filled with Christmas cheer either. I’m just blah, and as we’ve explained in past posts, feeling nothing actually feels pretty bad.
Honestly, I feel really guilty about feeling blah this time of year. I feel bad that I haven’t lived every holiday moment to the fullest. I feel sad that I let one of my favorite times of year pass me by. I feel worried that I’ve disappointed WYG’s grief friends by not being on top of my holiday grief support game. And, more than anything, I feel ashamed that I haven’t given my kids the best holiday season ever! Because every holiday season needs to be the best one ever!
Some of you may think this is crazy, but feeling guilt around the holidays is new to me. I’ve never associated the holiday season with feelings of guilt in the past, but this year I seem to find self-reproach and criticism around every corner. Aside from my own feelings of condemnation, I’ve noticed quite a few other people, especially my grieving friends and acquaintances, express things like the following….
“I feel bad that…”
- …I can’t afford to buy as many gifts as in the past
- …I can’t muster up the energy to do this holiday activity or that
- …I can’t bring myself to carry on a certain tradition
- …I can’t stop crying
- …I’m feeling too raw to do anything meaningful in honor of my loved one
- …I don’t want to send holiday cards
- …I’m not up for the holiday parties
- …I can’t listen to holiday music
- …I feel like skipping the holiday season altogether
And the list goes on.
Guilt, shame, self-on-self disappointment – it’s everywhere. As I’ve established, I’m a prime offender so I’m not going to tell you not to feel guilty. It rarely helps to tell a person not to feel guilty. However, because we are often much kinder, patient, and understanding with those we care about than we are with ourselves, I see quite a few reasons why you should probably give yourself a break. So, I’d like to offer you a brief list of reasons why you should go a little bit easier on yourself these next few days.
First, you deserve to cut yourself some slack:
We’ve said it once, we’ll say it a hundred more times – if you’re grieving and still getting out of bed, putting on clothes, showering occasionally, and eating, then you’re doing something. You have to cope with whatever primary loss you experienced and then all the secondary losses that followed. This is stressful and takes a lot out of you physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Second, comparing is silly:
I realize you may be feeling pressured by the ghost of holidays past to be the same as you were before the loss, but it’s really not fair to compare yourself to this person because things have changed. It’s also not fair to compare yourself to other people who are seemingly having a splendid holiday. First of all, who knows what’s really going on with anyone else regardless of how picture perfect their holiday card appears. Second, many others haven’t faced the same kinds of challenges that you have this year.
Third, you’re not a Grinch simply because you’re not that into it:
As we wrote in our post defending the “holiday villain”:
“I’m sure there are a handful of holiday villains who are truly cold at heart, but more than likely the disheveled woman standing in the corner at the office holiday party is not; nor is the friend who does not want to participate in the Secret Santa Gift Exchange or the child who doesn’t enthusiastically shout-sing Jingle Bells at the holiday recital. Give these people the benefit of the doubt before you typecast them as bad because there’s a good chance they’re good people who’ve had a bad year.
Fourth, people may not be as disappointed in you as you assume:
As people, we often tell ourselves stories about who we are and how we relate to other people. Sometimes these stories are accurate and sometimes they are based on subjective assumptions. So, a person may tell themselves things like:
“I’m no fun, everyone is watching me, I’m not wanted here, this was a pity invite, I’m a third wheel, people are disappointed in me, people don’t care, I have no one, etc”
Though I’m sure there are times when these things are true, there are also times when these thoughts are exaggerations or manifestations of a person’s internal fears and anxieties. So, if you find yourself thinking this way, we encourage you to really stop and ask yourself, “What evidence do I have to support this belief? How do I know it’s true?”
Fifth, there will be another holiday season next year:
Here’s the thing about the holidays – and you can look at this as good news or bad – they happen every year. I know it might not seem this way right now, but you have not sentenced to a life of bad holiday seasons. Sure, the holidays may be different in the future, but different can still be okay or fine or even good.
So please, take this holiday season for what it is – one bad, sad, disappointing holiday season. If you skipped an important tradition and it made you sad, if you skipped the holidays altogether, if you wish you had done more to honor and remember your loved one, or whatever other disappointment or guilty thought your grappling with – remember that next year you can take small steps (or big steps if you prefer) to do things differently.
If you are struggling with the holidays, we want to remind you that we have a free mini-ecourse on managing grief on holidays and special days. If you try this course, I encourage you to pay special attention to the section on holiday values. Holiday values are important because people have a tendency to feel bad about all the ‘what’s’ that have to change after a person’s death, however, if you can focus on the ‘whys’ (the values and meaning behind what you do) you often see that there are still ways to connect with what matters despite everything that has to change.